More microblog thoughts...

Like many other old-skool bloggers, I have a love/hate relationship with microblogging, specifically Twitter and Facebook. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how to integrate them into my daily routine without getting overwhelmed.

About a year ago, I started using Twitter regularly, posting thoughts and linking it to my Facebook status. That worked okay for a while, but then I noticed that I was really participating in a "post-only" mode because I never seemed to be able to keep up with the people I was following. Not only that, but the updates from my Facebook buddies seemed more reasonable and fun - including links, pictures, etc. So about a month ago, I switched over to using Facebook for my microblogging, and used FriendFeed to update my Twitter status.

This caused some people to question my sanity, as it ends up posting messages to Twitter in third person like, "Russell is having a good day," but in general it worked ok. Then I subscribed to my Facebook status feed in my newsreader. It seemed to work out okay.

But Twitter seems like it's still an unstoppable force, with it becoming more and more mainstream, and it's influence being more widely felt by the day. For example, I was reading Advertising Age the other day (the printed version) and there was a graph of top Twittered commercials during the SuperBowl. It was referenced with all the seriousness of a Nielson rating. Add to that people like Daniel Schorr and Scott Simon of NPR using it, and Twitter has seriously entered the zeitgeist.

But hell if I have any idea how to use it efficiently.

There's been discussion lately about Facebook updates versus Twitter and I think the many people don't really understand the core difference - Twitter is always public by default, with private options being the exception. Facebook on the other hand, is private by default. The difference is not insignificant.

Also, Twitter's reply functionality, API and desktop clients makes it a conversational tool as well, whereas Facebook has normal commenting which aren't necessarily shared to everyone (like @replies are). My Mom is on Facebook now and left a Wall post the other day complaining that I haven't called (classic, no? :-) ). When I posted a status update about it, an old friend responded with a rule of hers which says, "never add coworkers or family as friends!". That's obviously a rule which doesn't apply to most Twitterers.

Twitter's "public by default" setup means that it's much more valuable for searching, since you can use Twitter Search to get a "top down" view of everything that's being posted for an instant snapshot of top trends. Facebook will have to make some major changes in order to create the same functionality - and we all know how much Facebook users like major changes.

In practice what this all means is that I view Twitter as being used much more to announce to the world thoughts, ideas and links, where Facebook is used to notify friends of what's happening in your life, with the security that only those friends will see it.

So here's my problem.

Twitter is filled with tons of great snippets. Links, ideas, thoughts on current trends, etc. And the people who use it, generally use it a lot. I recently culled the number of people I follow to just the ones that I instantly recognized - either I know them personally, met them, or recognize them by their blog or something that I'm interested in. Surprisingly, given my memory for names and faces, that still left me with 200 people. If the average number of Tweets is 2 or 3 times a day, that'd be 600 ore more updates to track. Let me tell you, trying to read them using my current aggregator is nigh impossible.

That's part of the reason I tried moving to using just Facebook, actually. The number of updates is much lower, more personal and easier to keep track of. Still, I get a hundred or so a day. But I really feel like I'm missing out on the buzz by not using Twitter, so I just moved back and it's great, but it's also overwhelming in terms of updates.

So I'm left with some options, none which I particularly like.

First is to cull even more people I'm following until the amount of updates is reasonable, just like I would with how many blogs and news sites I subscribe to. I think that misses the point, but it would be nice to have a "shut off for 24 hours" button for some overzealous Twitterers.

The next option is to accept that I'm going to miss a large chunk of updates and not worry about it. Twitter is, afterall, about what's happening *right now*. The problem with this is that I might as well un-follow anyone in a different timezone then as the main chunk of updates from people I know and like in Europe happen 8 to 10 hours before I wake up. Again, though, if I'm following someone, it means I want to see what their thoughts are - missing most of them during the day doesn't seem right. Nor does being bugged every few minutes by a chat-like Twitter desktop client seem like a good idea either. I much prefer sitting down to my newsreader and working through posts and updates when I want, rather than being constantly interrupted.

A third option is to change the way I read updates... Right now my newsreader is made for regular blog posts, organized by category, feed source, then time. In other words, all the news feeds are first, then the Engadget posts are grouped together, with the latest sorted above the rest. But for Twitter and Facebook updates, I really want it to be organized by *person*, then time, with the groupings sorted in chronological order.

Maybe that's the solution (which I'm figuring out as I type this, actually) - a dedicated Microblog news reader, with more efficient ways of marking people or timeframes as read. In other words, I want to be able to say, "okay, mark everything before yesterday as read as I can't keep up" without messing up today's posts. Also, some people get Twitter happy some days and post 30 times. Maybe I don't care, so I want to just be able to mark those posts as read instantly as well. I also want to be able to prioritize certain people. There are sometimes when I want to read *everything* and sometimes when I just want to catch up with certain people. It'd be great to be able to put those people first.

Duplicate detection would be great as well - since there's an overlap in Facebook and Twitter (and even other services like FriendFeed or Delicious), I want to be able to combine User IDs into a single grouping, and detect if updates are being re-posted so I don't have to see them more than once.

I think this is it... I'm going to have to mess with OMGWTFBBQ (the name of my custom news reader written in PHP) and see if I can make this happen. I think it'd go a long way to easing my current angst about microblogs.


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